Kate Simon: If you haven't booked for summer yet, you'll pay through the nose

School is nearly out for summer and thousands of parents will be asking themselves, once again, whether they should risk a telling off from the beak and take their kids out of school early (or return them late) in an attempt to save some pennies on the annual family getaway.

While the government threatens the harshest public spending cuts in a generation, those of us who still haven't booked a summer holiday may be reconsidering whether we can afford to take one at all this year. Could the "staycation" mean just that, a tent pitched in the backyard (local fox population allowing)?

Britain's tour operators don't appear to be in a mood to help. This month's issue of Which? Holiday reports that peak-season package prices have soared this summer. It names Thomson as one of the worst offenders, citing a rise in the price of a holiday to Jamaica during the summer break of 75 per cent on what it charged outside this period. Thomson, it says, puts this down to seasonal demand.

Cosmos is also berated for having the largest average price rise of 26 per cent for a holiday to Mallorca in July. Cosmos's response is, once again, that its price is driven by the fact that it can sell hotel rooms during this period "10 times over".

Even the best deals found by Which? Holiday for the two destinations represent significant price rises: Virgin Holidays has put up its prices by 22 per cent for Jamaica and Thomas Cook is charging 21 per cent more for a summer holiday to Mallorca.

Frances Tuke, spokesperson for Abta, the travel industry body, says that it is unlikely there will be any change to this trend so long as most people across Europe continue to take holidays at the same peak times. However, she does point to one small glimmer of light. "There has been a proposal from the European Commission for member states to take slightly different holiday times ... this would certainly help in terms of levelling out demand," she says. "After all, travel businesses would like to plan to be busy throughout the year, rather than to depend on a relatively short period to make a profit."

More immediate hope for holidaymakers comes from tour operator Hayes & Jarvis, which reports that its latest review of the long-haul sector shows that the negative impact of fluctuating exchange rates, the volcanic ash cloud, civil unrest and transport strikes has resulted in price-cutting by both hoteliers and airlines.

So, could this be the summer to forget Europe and go further afield? Hayes & Jarvis points to some substantial increases in long-haul bookings, such as a jump of 130 per cent in trips to Caribbean destinations in May and June, which it says is due to the big hotel groups, such as Sandals and Almond Resorts, offering substantial discounts on the island. And there are some good deals remaining for summer, though the best discounts are bound to be offered outside this peak period.

So, if you're lucky, you might still snap up a bargain (look out for the round-up of late deals in our Summer School Holiday Special next Sunday). But the reality is that tour companies will always be driven by the need to maximise profits and the summertime offers them the perfect opportunity to rake in our cash.

Got a travel issue to raise? Email us at: sunday travel@independent.co.uk

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